B.J. Mendelson’s advice for the Rest of Us might be bullshit, too

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B.J. Mendelson’s primary point is that the big social media craze won’t benefit the masses. He is passionate about making it known that those who benefit from the concept of social media are those who already have money, power, and influence. Social media isn’t anything more than a buzzword. As a matter of fact, on of his early points is that the web is more efficient but not fundamentally different- an argument we can view in terms of the communications theory of remediation. The reason for stating this at all is to alert the reader and emphasize the fact that “social media” is a worthless phrase and the average person’s scramble to master the phenomenon is likely to be a fruitless effort. He explains that the Internet as a social space is not a new concept at all, but through marketing and branding leaders in Web have been able to revive and perpetuate interest in it, and that cycle ill continue from Web 2.0 to social media to big data and so on.

Mendelson makes a point backed by the social shaping theory discussed by Nancy Baym. He says that the “focus on data and the desire for interoperability by programmers and developers is a cultural change, not a technological one.” At face value it seems he’s describing a more social construction of technology theory, but he is not. He subtly admits soon after that “a lot…stems from technology,” but defends his stance that the impact of technology on society cannot be discussed without considering the impact of society on technology. There is a clear effort to present a very biased opinion and to assert that the Web or “social media” has changed the way we operate as a society, but the corporations and stakeholders in the economy have found a way to benefit from these buzzwords and capitalize in everyone’s use of them and belief in them. Social shaping is a useful framework to consider these thoughts because it allows us to examine the two-fold nature of our constantly changing technology. The technology itself doesn’t define our actions or create new possibilities, nor does it always serve the purposes it was intended for. Societal, economic, and cultural conditions all influence how we use a technology as well.

The concept of social capital as explained by Ellison, Steinfeld, and Lampe is also present in Mendelson’s arguments on who social media can be useful to. As he says in Chapter 8, “…people get to where they are today because the people they know, know someone who could help them.” The power in weak and latent ties is what makes social media attractive, and has the potential to connect people with others who can help them. Forming a broad network can lead to new information and opportunities. However, Mendelson wants his readers to know that this works for people that are already within established networks; that the so-called “influencers” one should try to connect with only exist for a select few and the average person won’t have any means of tapping into their reach. At best, the rest of us can count on luck, or being in the right place at the right time. The most democratic Mendelson credits the web to be, in Chapter 15, is that there is truly equal access, but that “access is where the equality ends.” Even this isn’t true, though, despite his account of a homeless man accessing Twitter at the library. It may seem like everyone is finally connected, but there are still many communities and individuals that don’t have access to the necessary equipment, or have restricted Internet access.

Mark Andrejevic, in “Surveillance and Alienation in the Online Economy,” details the very essence of Mendelson’s argument on capital gain in saying, “The flip side of the dramatically expanded capacity for socializing, communicating, networking, is reliance upon a thoroughly commercialized platform, one that will continue to be tweaked, adjusted, transformed in order to more effectively serve the marketing strategies that support it.” Our author argues again and again, that by investing money into social media campaigns on Facebook or Twitter are not necessarily effective, are not a loss if not utilized, and will only maybe be beneficial to those companies that have A LOT to spend in the first place. Furthermore, no matter what benefit you gain from using social media to market yourself or your product, or whether or not it is monetary, the platform you use will benefit monetarily. Mendelson is trying to convince of that an evil and socially irresponsible cycle exists in which platforms claim they can do what they essentially won’t do, and marketers will convince us to use the platforms even though the anticipated gain is largely unattainable.

Hong Liu’s talk of taste performances absolutely comes into play throughout Mendelson’s bitter tirade against social media. In a general sense, the author gives off an authentic performance by offering anecdotal evidence to support his claims. This also is an act of prestige, though, as is writing the book itself. He positions himself as someone who knows and understands the social media sphere- so well he can tell us that what everyone else is saying is complete bullshit. He must understand the importance of prestige, as well as differentiation in fact, quite well since he also offers this advice:

You want to set yourself apart. You have to set up a professional-looking Web site. The more amateurish it looks, the less credibility you have.

I certainly agree with a lot of what Mendelson has to say, but in the end he is marketing his book as well in the same way the other bullshitters do, a way in which he explicitly takes issue with. He allows personal experience to mandate how social media should be used for anyone to be successful. His advice is not tailored to any single person’s business venture, political or social or cultural contexts, or anything of the sort. It is a book that tells whoever is reading it the right (and wrong) way to use social media…as do the books that marketers push on us that Mendelson loves to hate.

You can buy Mendelson’s bullshit here.

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